Russian massage

Russian massage
Russian massage

Russian massage is a system of therapeutic and sports massage developed in the former Soviet Union. It uses a variety of manipulations of the body’s soft tissues to achieve benefits, including stress reduction and relief from muscle aches.


Many cultures around the world developed forms of massage therapy, including the ancient peoples of China, India, and Greece. One early advocate was Hippocrates, the Greek physician widely considered to be the father of medicine.

Per Henrik Ling, a nineteenth-century Swedish physician who employed vigorous massage to stimulate circulation of the blood and lymph, is usually considered the founder of modern European massage.

Massage was not studied or used scientifically in Russia until 1860. Treatment methods were developed further after World War II when pharmaceuticals were in short supply.

The Soviet Union employed physiatrists—medical doctors with Ph.D. degrees in physical therapy—to research the benefits of using natural healing modalities. They developed a form of petrissage to reverse atrophy in muscles and help stimulate new growth.

Russian physiologists found all movements of massage function on the basis of neurohormone and neuroendocrine reflexes. Unlike other massage therapies, Russian massage is based on the physiology of a dysfunction rather than on anatomy as the principal guideline for treatment.


Practitioners say that Russian massage is useful for a wide range of musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, neurological, gynecological, internal disorders, and in post-surgical situations.

In Russia, massage therapists are regarded as medical professionals. The massage therapy department is often the largest in Russian hospitals and clinics because it is crucial to rehabilitation.

Patients describe it as “waking up” both body and mind. It has been used to increase circulation of blood and lymphatic flow, to stimulate production of endorphins, control physical and mental stress, and to increase range of movement.

Ailments said to benefit from massage therapy include asthma, insomnia, arthritis, bursitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, hip sprains and strains, rotator cuff injuries, myofascial pain, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems, headache, spastic colon, colic, constipation, and immune function disorders. Because of its gentle, non-invasive nature, Russian massage is considered especially suitable for seniors.


Russian massage is considered less invasive and more relaxing than many other forms of massage therapy. It uses four principal techniques:
  • petrissage, a stretching or kneading motion
  • effleurage, a gliding, relaxing stroke
  • friction, a rubbing action
  • vibration, a continuous-motion stroke ranging from very fast to very slow

Treatments may be as short as 15 minutes or as long as almost one hour. They may be repeated daily or every other day, but may also be interrupted after a dozen or so treatments to ensure that patient does not become dependant on massage.


Like other types of massage therapy, Russian massage involves intimate personal contact. To lessen the possibility of unprofessional conduct, it is important to ensure that practitioners belong to a known regulatory body.

Massage should not be used on burns, in cases of deep vein thrombosis (blood clots), infectious diseases, or in other situations in which it is clearly inappropriate. In cancer patients, there is no evidence that massage causes the disease to spread. However, it is nonetheless advisable to avoid direct pressure at tumor sites.

There is controversy over the advisability of massage following a heart attack. Some studies have suggested that the heart is not unduly strained by gentle massage, but this issue should be discussed with a physician. Massage is also not recommended in cases of phlebitis.

Side effects

Adverse effects from massage therapy are quite rare, and are usually related to unusually vigorous methods or used when contraindicated.

Research and general acceptance

The usefulness of Russian and other forms of massage therapy is acknowledged by most medical professionals, some of whom have undertaken massage training themselves.

One 1995 study found that 54% of family practitioners and primary-care doctors in the United States were prepared to recommend therapeutic massage to their patients, and 34% would refer patients to a massage therapist. Many health insurance plans now cover prescribed massage therapy.